A radar detector can be an invaluable automotive accessory for those of us who tend to have a bit of a lead foot when we’re driving. Getting caught in a speed trap can really put a damper on your day, not to mention a dent in your bank account. While we certainly don’t advocate speeding, we’ve been around the block enough to know that it can happen to even the best law-abiding drivers.
This is where having a reliable and sensitive radar detector can come in very handy. Designed to sense and alert you to speed traps and radar guns, a high-tech radar detector can save you a lot of headaches. But how do you know which one is best?
Radar detectors run the gamut when it comes to options, reliability, and prices. It can be confusing trying to figure out which one will be best for you. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with our comprehensive product review and our in-depth buying guide that will teach you all you need to know to be certain you’re getting the right radar detector.
Detect radar guns from afar. The main point of a radar detector is to detect the radar gun before it detects you, giving you time to reduce your speed. While a radar detector doesn’t always need to be used to avoid the police, they do give you a decent idea of where common speed traps are so that you can adjust your driving accordingly.
Drive safer. Beyond just driving safely to avoid speeding tickets, many radar detectors can also detect other common hazards and radar signal sources, making you pay more attention to your surroundings.
Red light camera and speed camera alerts. Using built-in GPS databases, many new radar detectors can also alert you to red light cameras and speed cameras around town.
Types of Radar Detectors
Windshield Mount: Corded
Corded radar detectors make it easy to supply power to the device anytime the car is on. Most corded options plug right into the car’s 12-volt power outlet. These can be difficult to install, since the cord adds some extra bulk to secure and get out of the way if you want to maximize the space inside the vehicle. You can also hardwire the detector into your fuse box for a cleaner install with no cable hanging down your dash.
Windshield Mount: Cordless
Cordless radar detectors make it easier to install the device inside a vehicle without worrying about cord management. You can mount the detector nearly anywhere in the vehicle for the best results. Given the battery power, however, you will need to keep the device charged. The device may also remain on when the car turns off.
A few rare radar detectors actually mount to the car via permanent installation. These tend to be hidden from view and mounted in the position for the best detection results with a controller and display installed in your dash. Unfortunately, installation usually requires a professional.
The main part of a radar detector is the actual detector. Using a superheterodyne receiver, radar detectors can pick up the radio frequencies radars use when they bounce waves off an object to determine the speed (known as the Doppler effect). Radar guns can be handheld like a gun, dash mounted in the officer’s vehicle so they can work while they drive, or connected to a camera for photo radar applications where they mail you a ticket. Radar can be shot out the front, sides, and rear of a police car. Police radar devices tend to use different types of radar bands that use different frequencies: X-band (10.5 to 10.55 GHz), Ku-band (12 to 18 GHz), K-band (24.05 to 24.24 GHz), and Ka-band (34.2 to 35.2 GHz). The best detectors have the ability to detect and identify all four types.
False Alert Filtering
False alerts are a common issue with radar detectors. Radar detectors pick up not only police radar guns, but they also detect various sources of radar including speed signs on the side of the road, automatic door openers in drugstores, and radar-based collision avoidance systems built into many newer vehicles. That is why most detectors come with different modes that change the sensitivity and selectivity of the receiver. City modes, for example, adjust the receiver in urban environments to filter out more common signal sources, reducing false alerting. Highway modes, on the other hand, decrease the selectivity. A detector with GPS tagging can automatically change the modes, depending on the vehicle’s location (in addition to remembering camera locations). Some modes can also detect other things like red light cameras.
Red Light Camera/Speed Camera Alerts
In addition to alerting you to radar threats, radar detectors with GPS typically have an updateable database that can give you advanced warning to ticket-issuing red light cameras and speed cameras.
Legality. It’s important to note that radar detectors aren’t always legal in all states and cities. They are legal to use in most of the U.S., with a few exceptions. They are illegal in most Canadian provinces. Learn about radar detector laws. In certain areas, police officers use special radar detector detectors. A few radar detectors are designed with special stealth technology that makes them undetectable to RDDs.
Hardwiring: Radar detectors come with a power cable that plugs into your 12-volt outlet. However, if your car doesn’t have an outlet or you’d prefer a cleaner installation with no cable hanging down your windshield and dash, you can hardwire your radar detector. When hardwired, your radar detector wires into your fuse box for power so the cable is tucked away and hidden behind your vehicle’s trim. This way, you have a much more stealthy and good looking install.
Best Radar Detectors Reviews & Recommendations 2021
Easily one of the best radar detectors on the market is the Uniden R7. It offers the longest range out of any windshield mount radar detector. It’s, for this reason, that drivers who demand the highest level of protection take a good look at the R7. Uniden detectors are known both for their all-out performance on their high-end detectors as well as their bang for the buck on their low-end detectors.
Additionally, the R7 comes packed with a bunch of other useful features that make for a better driving experience. It offers arrows to help you locate the threats around you. This way when it goes off, you’ll know immediately if the officer is ahead of you, when you pass him, and when the threat is behind you. The integrated GPS allows you to teach the detector where false alerts are located around town from speed signs on the side of the road and automatic door openers in front of drugstores and grocery stores. Once you do that, the detector will stay quiet along your regular commute.
The biggest complaint that people have with the R7, however, is its blind spot monitoring (BSM) filtering. The detector is pretty good at filtering blind spot monitoring systems from other cars, but it still has a fair amount of false alerts, especially compared to the competition. The latest updates have helped in this regard, however. No detector can filter them out entirely, but the R7 will false alert a little more than others. So the performance is awesome, but it is a chattier detector. That is the trade-off with the R7.
Nothing beats the feeling of getting a great gadget at a pocket-friendly price. This is why we recommend the Cobra RAD 350, which uses Cobra's patented IVT FILTER System to reduce false alerts that can be a result of collision avoidance systems within your range. It’s designed with an advanced laser eye sensor that can detect threats from the front and rear. The sensor can detect X, K, Ka-band, laser, and VG-2 signals.
The RAD 350 is designed to promote driver safety by allowing the driver to seek out radar gun signals while keeping his or her eyes on the road. This is made possible by its digital voice announcement feature that reads out alerts in a manner that you can easily understand. Also, for a more manual approach, it’s fitted with an easy-to-read OLED display on the front.
However, other than the front and rear detectors, there are limited advanced features on this model that would allow for a greater detection range. It may only cover you for about half a mile. Another downside is that the voice announcement feature is easily drowned out by cabin noise. For example, it may not be audible if you drive with the windows down, music playing, or people talking in the background.
The Escort Max 3 Laser Radar Detector is a high-tech, premium range radar detector that delivers state-of-the-art radar sensitivity. While it is a little on the pricey side, you get some serious benefits and high-end features with this model that you won’t find in many other options. The Max 3 is equipped with a next-generation platform that greatly decreases false alerts set off by your in-vehicle technology.
You also get a radar detector that actually learns your driving style and becomes more intelligent based on your regular GPS routes, typical driving speed, and driving habits to even further eliminate false alerts. You can connect to the Escort Live App and join a community of drivers who receive and share continuous updates and alerts about traffic conditions, including red light and speed camera locations, live traffic updates, police radar, and speed limits.
The EZ mount is great for being able to quickly remove the unit from the windshield, but it does allow for some wobbling while driving, which can be kind of annoying.
The Uniden DFR7 is the best city/highway detector you’ll find if you’re looking for the lowest priced device that still offers reasonable performance and false alert filtering. It’s the predecessor to the DFR9 and is in the process of being discontinued, but until it’s totally gone, it’s being discounted heavily and is an amazing deal.
It offers the same performance and false alert filtering as the DFR9 (same platform under the hood), but it has a more basic black and white OLED display, there’s no auto-dimming display (you change display brightness manually), and it lacks some of the more granular controls over detector sensitivity.
Most detectors in this price range feature poor performance and/or filtering to get down to the price point, but the DFR7’s capabilities are still pretty reasonable.
Escort is a leading powerhouse in the radar detection field, and the Escort Passport 9500iX is one of our favorite offerings. It comes equipped with integrated traffic sensor rejection to give you fewer false alerts and limit your distractions while driving. It also features national coverage of thousands of pre-loaded speed camera locations and known hot spots in its Defender Database. This database also updates frequently to give you the most accurate information.
When you do get an alert, you get all the info you could possibly need, including laser band, signal strength, and vehicle speed. Download the app to receive warnings and other valuable info from millions of other Escort users. All your alerts are tailored to your specific vehicle location and motion.
One thing to note is that when you do system updates, you can potentially lose some of your stored locations. Also, there are reports of this model giving false alerts when overexposed to extreme heat or direct sun for prolonged periods.
In the same breath, we recommend the S55, another advanced radar and laser detector in the Escort Passport series. It provides extended range warnings of long-range K and Ka bands while using Exclusive AutoSensitivity Mode to filter false warnings. Also, it features an ExpertMeter that allows it to seek out up to four signals at once.
If you are navigating through an unknown destination, it will give you access to the local speed limit and upcoming alerts from other Escort users in the area. Information is presented on a backlit display with a red LED light to make it easy to read in the daytime.
However, you may get what you pay for, seeing that it’s one of the cheapest radar detectors available; you may still get several false alarms despite having the AutoSensitivity feature. It can easily get triggered by blind monitoring systems in other vehicles.
The Cobra Dualpro is one of the most top-notch, state-of-the-art radar detectors on our list. It’s also one of the priciest. But what do you get for that price? Well, you get lightning fast detection with 360-degree directional sensors and alerts arrows. DSP technology quickly and accurately pinpoints threats all around you.
A customizable, high-resolution, multi-color display gives you the best viewing capability of detected bands and types of threats. GPS-based auto learning technology provides five different levels of filtration to eliminate unwanted noise and repeated false alerts. A handy voice alert system can tell you approaching threats in either English or Spanish.
Even though this is one of the most technologically advanced units on our list, some users still report getting frequent false alerts or being caught by lidar speed traps from time to time. Nothing’s totally foolproof, right?
The Uniden R3 Extreme Long Range Laser/Radar Detector has K/KA band filtering to prevent false alerts caused by other vehicles' blind spot monitoring and collision avoidance systems. The R3 uses GPS and has the ability to remember and mute common false alerts, so you don't have to hear them on your regular commutes.
The device alerts you to red light and speed camera locations, uses voice alerts for safety, and also has a multi-color OLED display that is easy to read. The R3 features a dark mode that makes it less visible, you can change the sounds of the alerts, and overall it's very customizable. And while it may lack some of the functions provided by some competitor brands, there are still a lot of options, and it has a long range and good detection around corners.
However, the materials feel a little cheap, and because it's so sensitive, it can pick up a lot of false alerts, which you have to program to lock out.
Another top offering from Escort is the Escort X80 Laser Radar Detector. This unit uses high performance laser sensors to provide long range protection and maximum early warnings and alerts against a large variety of radar bands, including instant and conventional radar guns. You even receive clear and informative voice alerts to allow for safe, hands-free operation. Alerts are specifically tailored to your particular speed, location, and movement so you can keep your eyes on the road and minimize distractions.
True digital signal processing gives you the fastest response rate available on the market today. And of course, you can easily connect to the Escort Live app to get even more info about what lies ahead, potential threats, and hazards from millions of like-minded users.
One downside to this already pricey unit is that you need to have a subscription to SmartCord in order to have your speed displayed on the unit. You’d think that after spending that amount of cash on a radar detector, the company would include that at no extra charge.
The Escort IXC Laser Radar Detector is a customizable device that learns your route and prevents false alerts by using GPS, IVT filtering, and auto sensitivity. The device is also WiFi Connected Car Compatible and provides accurate and precise information by tapping into a database of real-time, user-generated alerts.
The IXC emits clear voice alerts that are customized based on your location and movement. Plus, you can use the Escort Live app and receive information about red light and speed camera locations, traffic updates, and police radar. It alerts you to threat signals so you have plenty of time to react, and it auto locks false signals.
While you can customize the alert types, sounds, colors, and so on, you must do so through the app as it's not possible through the actual device, which can be inconvenient for some users. Also, the app's interface could be a little better. Pairing it with Bluetooth can also be a hassle for some people.
Another budget friendly option that we think is a great buy is the Cobra RAD 480i Laser Radar Detector. It is equipped with front and rear detection capabilities, thanks to its LaserEye technology, which gives you all-around protection wherever you go. It also features updateable next-generation IVT filters and advanced anti-false technology to decrease false alerts from other vehicle avoidance systems and blind spot systems. This provides you a more accurate and longer range of radar detection.
Special digital signal processing allows for faster and earlier warnings of incoming laser gun signals to help alert you to a threat before you’re right on top of it. The RAD 480i comes with everything you need, including a 12-volt power cord, a hook and loop fastener for dash mounting, and a suction cup mount for your windshield. You can also download and connect to the iRadar App to get real-time alerts to speed traps, red light cameras, speed cameras, and other potential hazards from more than three million other drivers.
The app is a great feature but does suffer from a few shortcomings, including some occasional glitches, so it might not be something you rely on 100 percent of the time.
The Radenso XP Radar Detector requires no setup and works right out of the box. It detects radar several miles away and features red light and speed camera alerts through its database, which includes free updates so you're always up to date. The device also includes automatic muting based on a user's selected speed and automatic sensitivity adjustment.
The XP uses GPS lockout technology that "remembers" common false alerts, so you won't hear the same false alert over and over again on your regular route. The buttons on the device are large and spaced out, making navigation easy. The reason why many users really like this detector is because of its blind spot monitoring (BSM) filtering, which prevents false alerts. The XP also comes with a one-year manufacturer's warranty and a one-year radar ticket-free guarantee.
One drawback is that its detection range is not as long as some rival brands. Also, there have been some complaints that the suction cups don't stay in the bracket very well.
Keep in mind that a radar detector can potentially be a distraction while driving. Choose one with voice alerts and voice control to maintain eye contact with the road for the safest driving setup.
Keep your radar detector inside when not in use. Heat on hot summer days can damage the radar detector if left out for too long.
Even in areas where radar detectors are legal, there may be extra laws that determine how and where you can mount it in your vehicle. In general, low mounting positions with suction cups on the dashboard are preferable.
Q. What are sensitivity and selectivity?
Sensitivity is essentially how well a radar detector actually picks up signals. The more sensitive a detector is, the better it detects signals, especially weak ones. Selectivity refers to a detector’s ability to ignore signal sources that can cause false alerts. Some detectors have better digital signal processing for signal rejection than others.
Q. Can police detect radar detectors?
Yes. Radar detector detectors like Spectre and VG-2 can identify the use of certain radar detectors, though there are radar detectors that are fully undetectable by RDDs.
Q. How can I reduce the number of false radar detections my detector picks up?
Buy a newer radar detector that is designed to filter out the various sources of false alerts. Keep your detector updated and use the various filtering options available to help it filter out non-police radar alerts.
Q. How far can a police radar detect your speed?
A police radar can detect you as far as a mile away. The target detection range greatly depends on the police radar power and frequency, as well as weather, the angle to the target, and antenna factors. The larger a target, the farther away it can be detected, so they will see a semi-truck before they can detect a tiny sports car.
Q. Why didn’t my radar detector go off when I passed a cop?
Radar detectors aren’t cop car detectors. If the officer wasn’t running their radar, then there’s nothing to detect and your radar detector won’t alert you.
When it comes to accurate and reliable radar detectors, the options are extensive, as you can see. As far as the best overall choice goes we really like the Uniden R7 for its advanced detection capabilities, state-of-the-art technology, and reliability.
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option that will still deliver great results, check out the Cobra RAD 350. It gives you great all-around detection and features a patented filter system to weed out false alerts.